In 2019–20, the Black Summer bushfires tore through the Snowy Valleys, devastating 48 per cent of the area.
The scars of this natural disaster are still visible on the land today and in the many small townships that make up this region of southern New South Wales. The hardships that people faced still linger, long after the news headlines have stopped. Now, resilient communities are banding together and exploring new ways to adapt and move forward.
Rural health care is at the centre of this. The Snowy Valleys area faces many challenges typical of rural Australia such as an ageing population, higher rates of respiratory health issues and health workforce shortages. But the crippling challenges of the past few years have highlighted the need for innovative thinking.
A community-centred project in Snowy Valleys is now exploring ways of connecting the available primary healthcare services with the specific needs of these local communities. The project group has community representatives from local towns including Tumut, Batlow and Tumbarumba. The group also has the support of Murrumbidgee Local Health District, Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network and NSW Rural Doctors Network.
Tumut local, Catherine Cusack, is the project officer for the Snowy Valleys Collaborative Care project.
‘The Collaborative Care Program is about giving people in the Snowy Valleys the best care in the primary health area that they can get, when they need it and where they need it,’ Ms Cusack said.
Over the past twelve months, the project has been identifying local priorities in primary health care through a range of engagement activities with local communities and health practitioners.
Around 570 residents took part in a recent survey that asked about their experience with local health services. Several important issues were raised, including the availability of appointments with health professionals, wait times, continuity of care, travel distance to access appointments and patient expectations of care.
‘The willingness of these local communities to engage with this project has been quite humbling,’ said Ms Cusack.
‘We’re also hearing directly from our local GPs, allied health professionals, primary care nurses, and Aboriginal health workers. We have very dedicated health professionals and they have been generous with their time and feedback.’
The list of priorities for Snowy Valleys includes improved access to allied health and GP services, better communication and coordination between health providers, and improved community health system literacy.
Linda Swales is a community representative from the small town of Batlow who has given her time to the project because she sees value in working collaboratively.
‘We’re all unique, we all have different needs, but the one thing that this is going to help and fix up is we’re going to be connected,’ said Ms Swales.
‘And finally trying to get this puzzle together, that we’re all receiving exactly what we deserve, good health care in our area.’
A range of new activities will address local needs and a website is available for more information at: nswrdn.engagementhub.com.au/snowyvalleys
The Snowy Valleys is one of five sub-regions in rural New South Wales participating in the Collaborative Care Program, funded through the Australian Government Department of Health.